Unions take on Glaxo
Glaxo Laboratories is a British (TNC) transnational corporation engaged in the aggressive marketing of so-called ethical drugs, medicines, food products, etc, in India. Glaxo is not so ethical when it comes to its dealings with its Indian consumers or Indian workforce, however. Glaxo is notorious for its exorbitantly high pricing regime in India: its pharmaceutical products are not only much more expensive than Indian brands, but also more expensive than Glaxo's own brands in other countries like Canada, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, etc. For years, the management of Glaxo has denied trade union rights to its large staff of medical sales representatives. It has also routinely violated India's labour laws. In the state of Kerala, Glaxo's sales reps are organised by the Kerala Medical & Sales Representatives' Association (KMSRA-CITU). Glaxo's response to this union organising activity includes sacking union activists or transferring them to far distant parts of the country. Only recently the company reacted to a rep taking part in union activities by transferring the worker from Palakkad in the extreme south of India to Agarthala in the extreme north-east, a region having not only a different culture but even a different language. In response to such actions, and also to Glaxo's various unethical marketing practices of drugs and medicines in India, the national union body to which KMSRA is affiliated, the Federation of Medical & Sales Representatives' Associations of India (FMRAI), decided on a national campaign of protests. In Kerala, KMSRA, the local affiliate of FMRAI, has been holding peaceful demonstrations and picketing outside Glaxo offices. Glaxo, like a true transnational, has responded by lodging false complaints with the police against the union and its office bearers. Unfortunately, such is the clout of a big TNC, in some areas police have co-operated with Glaxo management to intimidate and arrest leading functionaries of KMSRA without bothering about checking the veracity of the complaints. Glaxo even took its phony complaints to the High Court of Kerala but the Court rejected them. Nevertheless, on July 15, 1999, KMSRA members protesting in Palakkad against the forced transfer of the union activist to Agarthala mentioned earlier, were arrested on another fabricated complaint and detained by police. A month earlier, there had been a peaceful demonstration in Kottayam which dispersed without incident. Nevertheless, in the evening police raided the homes and hotel rooms of medical representatives on the basis of a complaint lodged by the officers of Glaxo. The medical reps were forcibly detained by the police. P Sethumadhavan, the General Secretary of the State Committee of KMSRA, says these "are clear cases of direct intervention by police at the behest of an employer (the management of a trans-national corporation) in the free and normal function of a trade union.... These actions are, undoubtedly, organised by vested interests." The union has called upon "all the trade unions, mass organisations and the democratic sections of the people" to send protest letters to M/S Glaxo Pharmaceuticals, Dr Annie Besant Road, Worli, Mumbai 96 400 025 India. Letters should also be sent to the Director General of Police, Trivandrum, Kerala State, India, and to the Prime Minister of India, A B Vajpayee, in New Delhi.